On the steps of Downing Street after her election triumph in 1979, Margaret Thatcher was the first British Prime Minister to clutch a handbag.

She was a working mother-of-two who was Britain's most influential post-war Prime Minister, and the country's first female leader. She said before running for leader that she did not think she would see a female Prime Minister "in my lifetime".

The late Baroness Thatcher should be a feminist icon.

thatcher

Margaret Thatcher was never afraid to show her feminine side - but was she a feminist?


But the Iron Lady had an uneasy relationship with feminism, and with her female colleagues. She froze child benefit and criticised many women for going out to work and creating a "creche" culture.

Once she said contemptuously: "I owe nothing to Women's Lib" when she was criticised by feminists, who had come out with banners which said "We want women’s rights – not a right-wing woman.”

And the New Statesman's editor's Paul Johnson quoted her as saying: "The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison."

Still, one of her most oft-quoted sentiments was: “In politics if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman."

She showed signs of being a campaigner for women's rights early on, in a letter to the Sunday Graphic in 1952 where she said: “Why have so few women in recent years risen to the top of the professions?

"One reason may be that so many have cut short their careers when they marry.

"In my view this is a great pity. I hope we shall see more and more women combining marriage and a career.

"Prejudice against this dual role is not confined to men. Far too often I regret to say it comes from our own sex.”


Matthew Holehouse
"She wasn't a feminist. All that line of argument left her cold," says Douglas Hurd of Baroness Thatcher

It was something she was guilty of herself at the pinnacle of her career. She never had a woman in her Cabinet who wielded any influence of any consequence.

Baroness Young was the only woman to reach her Cabinet, and then only briefly, as Leader of the House of Lords: a post which carried virtually no authority within the Government.

Her inability to do business with women was graphically demonstrated when she had talks in Delhi with Indira Gandhi, who was later to be assassinated.

The Indian leader also found it virtually impossible to negotiate with another woman as powerful and clever as herself. When they emerged from a private meeting, the sparks fairly flew off both of them."

Thatcher was unafraid of dressing like a woman, and assuming a traditional wife role at home with husband Denis.

Her biographer Penny Junor described how she “was very traditional in her views of family life. Denis was her absolute rock, every evening she would curl up in a chair and discuss the problems of the day with him. He was still the man of the house.

"She was incredibly powerful outside the home, but within the house she was the wife.”

Still, the decade after her fall from power was dominated by another kind of feminism, The Spice Girls and "Girl Power".

Thatcher and Ginger Spice are unlikely kindred spirits. But in a interview with Simon Sebag Montefiore in the Spectator, prior to the 1997 election, Geri Halliwell declared Thatcher the First Lady of Girl Power.

"Thatcher had ideals all right," said Geri, to a chorus of approval and chants of "We love Maggie!"

"Even if her policies were hard-hearted, socialism is bad - you work for your living and you deserve to keep what you've earned, Thatcher believed. But her legacy was a mixture: dealing with the unions good; destroying the GLC bad."

"I saw a lot of what Mrs Thatcher did. She was definitely the original Spice Girl rising from the greengrocer's daughter to Prime Minister."

It led the TV presenter Lauren Laverne to dub Halliwell "Tory scum".

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